LIFESTYLE

Celebrating the Day of the Dead, with an American twist

HIDALGO, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 02:  Girls in facepaint in Real del Monte on the 'Day of the Dead' on November 2, 2014 in Hidalgo,Mexico. The Royal Couple are on the first day of a four day visit to Mexico as part of a Royal tour to Colombia and Mexico.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

HIDALGO, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 02: Girls in facepaint in Real del Monte on the 'Day of the Dead' on November 2, 2014 in Hidalgo,Mexico. The Royal Couple are on the first day of a four day visit to Mexico as part of a Royal tour to Colombia and Mexico. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)  (2014 Getty Images)

Reconnecting with loved ones' spirits, paying tribute to them at a specially built altar, and sharing their favorite dishes are all part of the colorful traditional Mexican celebration known as the Day of the Dead.

But in the United States, many Mexican immigrants are weaving in American touches to their Day of the Dead traditions.

And many communities are welcoming non-Mexicans to celebrate the Day of the Dead with them.

On the West coast there are two cemeteries that open their gates to the larger community, inviting them in.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, located in Hollywood, California, has hosted an annual celebration on its grounds for the past 17 years. Every year it has grown larger, bringing a crowd that averages 30,000 guests, about 60 percent of them Latino.

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“The dead and the living come together this night,” Tyler Cassity, the president and owner of Hollywood Forever, told Fox News Latino. “And the veil between the living and the dead is lifted.”

The event features live entertainment, food vendors, face painting for the kids and altar-building for the graves.

Hollywood Forever even has an overnight program that allows people who have a loved one buried in the cemetery to spend the night at their gravesite.

“This celebration has become bigger than all of us, it’s between one living soul and a dead one, and we want to give families that chance to be with the ones they have lost,” Cassity said.

Diana Rodriquez, who works for Hollywood Forever, said that the Day of the Dead, known as “El Dia de Los Muertos” in Spanish, is a time to stop and reflect.

“I am Colombian,” she said. “And every year I build a small altar for my grandparents. Dia de Los Muertos is a time of the year in which I stop my ‘busy’ life, breathe, remember and thank them with a smile.”

The City of Santa Monica throws a similar celebration at Woodlawn Cemetery.

They start the celebration with a ceremony blessing centered on praying for the souls that rest in the grounds.

More than half of the attendees are Latino, and the crowd has grown from 500 to 1,700 people in the last five years.

“We invite the community, whether they participate in Day of the Dead or not, to come experience and learn about this unique celebration of life and death,” said Allison Ostrovsky, Cultural Affairs Supervisor. “I have family buried at the cemetery and each year, because of this event, I stop to honor and remember them.”

Jacqueline Stansbury, a writer who has attended different Day of the Dead events throughout the years, said that for some Americans, the event continues Halloween.

“To Americans, it represents an extension of Halloween,” she said, “in a more culture kind of way that embraces the beauty of it.”

At the University of Texas, a Latino fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta International, hosts an annual event open to the public to celebrate the holiday.

“We celebrate Dia De Los Muertos with the community for a couple of reasons,” said Bryan Tamayo, director of the event, “to provide Latinos who are away from home a way to celebrate this day, and to spread culture awareness.”

The fraternity celebration attracts people from different organizations within the university who take part in eating traditional Mexican dishes, building altars, and joining the moment of silence.

“This is a holiday that I am passionate about,” Tamayo said. “And my goal is to make others enjoy it.”

Nikki Abrego is a college associate at Fox News Latino. She is a senior at the University of Miami. Instagram: abrego_nikki 

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